Eyes on Taiwan, but is China distracting us from a ‘second Pearl Harbour’?

US stealth submarines in the area remain submerged and mostly intact. They can detect some of the chaos above, but they rely on US satellites to communicate. Sub-commanders cannot report their discoveries or receive orders.

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The United States has two large naval battle groups in the area as the attack unfolds, the norm for a peacetime deployment. According to Molan’s script:

“Aircraft carrier missiles from China’s east and south coasts are fired at the larger ships of both battle groups, supported by smaller cruise missiles from nearby Chinese ships and submarines, and old but usable Chinese H-6 bombers, each of which fire two of the huge anti-ship cruise missiles they fire into the air from under their wings.All the big fighters tear, burn and sink.

“The cost in human lives is appalling,” writes Molan. Xi Jinping delivered his message even as the world still struggles to restore communications. Xi’s message to America, as Molan puts it:

“You are out of the Western Pacific and we will not let you reestablish your bases in Japan, South Korea or even Guam. From Japan to Australia to Hawaii, the Western Pacific is now a sphere of Chinese influence.

This is only a scenario, but is it plausible? Molan argues that we are preparing for the wrong war. He thinks we are all waiting for a limited Chinese attack on Taiwan. And although he says it is possible, it would only happen if Chinese strategists were dumb.

If Xi struck Taiwan, his attacking forces would be vulnerable to a hammering from the United States. Why would he accept this pain when he has the ability to push America completely out of the hemisphere, forcing it back to the area east of Hawaii?

Then he can take Taiwan as he pleases, probably without resorting to force. And dictate its conditions to American allies including Australia, now cut off from its great ally.

And Xi can enjoy the accolades of history as a leader who ended half a millennium of Western dominance over the Pacific.

But is Molan’s scenario plausible? Or is he just an obsessive ex-military man who spent too much time alone with the internet and a paranoid imagination?

Former Australian Army Major General and now Liberal NSW Senator Jim Molan.

Former Australian Army Major General and now Liberal NSW Senator Jim Molan.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

I turned to a well-known American strategist, Elbridge Colby, for advice. Colby was the primary author of the United States National Defense Strategy released in 2018. From his seat at the Pentagon as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development, he was aware of the capabilities defense of America and all its secrets. And all the American knowledge of China.

After reading Molan’s script, Colby’s verdict: “It’s very believable. Molan clearly knows what he is talking about. I would say he may well be underestimating the scope and scale of a Chinese attack. It’s possible they’ll go for a narrower strike, but it’s also possible they’ll go even further than he expects.

In Molan’s vision, Australia would receive special attention from Beijing. Because if Washington decided to try to regroup and retaliate without a nuclear war, its most likely base of operations would be Australia, just as it was for General Douglas MacArthur in 1942.

Thus, as part of its attack on the United States, China is positioning eight of its submarines at four critical points around the Australian continent. They fire cruise missiles at Air Force planes “sitting on criminally unprotected bases.” The “small but fine Australian Air Force has been destroyed”.

Then Chinese submarines send self-propelled and automated sea mines to seal off Australian military ports. The navy is trapped until they manage to extricate them. Etc.

“The prospect of war in the Western Pacific is bleak enough for the United States, but it is even bleaker for Australia, with our one-hit defense force, our enormous vulnerability” due to dependency imports of fuel, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and many other critical supplies.

Jim Molan comes from the Australian political right; Hugh White is another former MoD strategist, but he hails from the left. They have very different worldviews. But Molan’s book and White’s latest quarterly essay, From sleepwalking to warconverge on two fundamentals:

First, Australia cannot assume that the United States will protect it from China. Even if he wanted to. And, flowing logically from the first, is the second – Australia must plan to be able to stand on its own. As Molan puts it, “a cautious Australia would have started to prepare 20 years ago”. We did not do it. We need a plan B. We don’t have one.

Peter Hartcher is an international editor. It is planned to launch The danger at our doorstep in Parliament in Canberra on Wednesday.

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